The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution

By Carl Zimmer | February 11, 2009 1:54 am

z1-tiktaalik-c4-final-test.jpgThis week of all things Darwin seemed like a good time to share some news about a project I’ve been working on for the past few months. It’s a book called The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution.

The inspiration for the book came from a conversation I had last year with the folks at Roberts & Company, a publishing company. They had noticed a growing number of classes about evolution for non-biology-majors, and asked if I’d be interested in writing a textbook for them. I was excited by the prospect of being able to bring together the things I’ve learned and written about over the past few years, as evolutionary biologists have made a string of surprising new advances in understanding the history of life (many of which I’ve written about here at the Loom).

In the book, I describe the fundamentals of evolution, such as natural selection, genetic drift, the origin of new species, and extinction. I also take a look at the emergence of new complex traits and body plans, the forces driving the rise and fall of biodiversity, and the coevolution of mutualists and parasites. I consider the growing field of evolutionary medicine, and survey the evolution of behavior–from swarming microbes to hypersocial humans. And at every opportunity, I describe the work of living, breathing scientists, from the paleontologists who search the Australian outback for the oldest signs of life on Earth to biologists who track the sexual arms race and bizarre genitalia of ducks. Rather than fall back on the same examples that seem to have been circulating for fifty years, I’ve focused on new research whenever possible. There’s no reason non-majors–or anyone else who wants to get up to speed on evolution–can’t share in the excitement of twenty-first-century evolultionary biology.

I’ve been helped enormously by the scientists who have looked over my descriptions of their work, as well as a number of other scientists who have reviewed large chunks of the book. I feel particularly fortunate to have a great team of scientific advisors who have offered wise counsel on the entire manuscript: Joel Kingsolver of the University of North Carolina, Kevin Padian of the University of California at Berkeley, Greg Wray of Duke, and Marlene Zuk of the University of California at Riverside.

And I’m also happy to report that the book is going to look great. I’m now working with the art team to cram it with photographs, diagrams, and paintings. The wonderful illustrator Carl Buell worked with me on my first book, At the Water’s Edge, producing lovely pen and ink drawings. Now we’re back together–and this time in color. The picture here is one of the pieces he’s done for the book: a portrait of Tiktaalik, an ancient fish with feet-like fins.

The book will be available in a few months–well before the 150th anniversary of the Origin of Species in November. But if you want to reserve a copy, Amazon already has a page up. I’ll have more details on the book as its publication approaches.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Writing Elsewhere

Comments (18)

  1. Richard

    Congratulations. Apart from what you say (and why should I doubt you?) your book looks stunning, with Carl Buell’s (he’s a genius) illustrations.

    Unfortunately, I can’t afford to buy it, but I’ll be following you for months for leaks.

    Hope this gets your pizazz going; I look to you for more than ‘scientific’ tattoos.

    best regards

    Richard Parker
    Siargao Island, Philippines

  2. Scott Belyea

    You mean I have to wait?? :-)

    And illustrations by Buell? A bonus!

    The only illustrations of early beasties I’ve come across that I’d rank alongside his are the elegant drawings by Marianne Collins (e.g. in Gould’s Wonderful Life).

  3. Looking forward to it! You’re one of the few non-biologists I would trust to get the details right. And Carl’s illustrations are unrivaled.

  4. Congratulations, Carl, and I’m glad to see this on the way. Roberts will do a bang-up job of it, I’ve little doubt. I look forward to getting a copy in hand. Keep up the good work.

  5. I can’t wait to see it! It sounds like a really interesting book. Congrats!

  6. minusRusty

    But if you want to reserve a copy…


    Carl, about the only other author I would consider pre-ordering a $50.00 book from would have been Isaac Asimov.



  7. Man, Buell never ceases to amaze…

  8. Congratulations, Carl. This is wonderful news. A few years ago I took an “Evolution & Geologic Time” course that was pretty good, but we used Gould’s “The Book of Life” as a text. The text wasn’t terrible, but it was definitely outdated, and I’m glad something more up-to-date will soon be coming out!

  9. Kurt

    Do you think it woill be ready in time to be shown at the summer/fall scientigic conferences? (Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, Geological Society of america , American society of Mammalogists etc.)

  10. Kurt

    Sorry should’ve used a spell checker on that one

  11. Metalraptor

    I’d read that book, and I am a bit of a specialist in biology.

  12. martin

    I bought this book recently, it’s a beautiful read and set at just the right level for me as a layman to the field of evolution. The copious illustrations are wonderful and really help in underpinning the text. It’s an excellent quality book in hardback. I can’t thank the author enough for helping me understand the mechanisms of evolution. Highly recommended!


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


See More

Collapse bottom bar